Grounding - BME-HIT

Grounding - BME-HIT
Agilent Technologies
Considerations for
Instrument Grounding
Application Note
Kuo Yen-Lung
Agilent Technologies Taiwan
Many people have heard of the term “grounding”, but few fully understand
its meaning and importance. Sometimes, even experienced electricians do
not treat grounding as a serious issue. The impact of an incorrect or absent
grounding ranges from noise interference, resonance or humming during the
use of electrical equipment to the worst case where electricity leakage
through the chassis causes personal injury or damage to instrument
components. Grounding, therefore, is a very practical issue that should be
dealt with properly. For those who operate electrical equipment frequently,
a complete understanding of grounding theories and applications is
necessary in order to become a best-in-class technician.
In the eighteenth century, Benjamin Franklin performed the famous kite
experiment to observe how lightning in the sky was conducted to the earth.
This experiment led to the invention of lightning rods to avoid lightning
strikes. From then on, people began to realize that the vast ground under our
feet is a huge electrical conductor. It may not be the best conductor, but it is
certainly a good one. It is so enormous in size that it can sustain a
tremendous amount of current. That is why the voltage level of the ground
is set to be zero. Safety regulations require that all metal parts which do not
carry electricity should be kept at zero or the earth voltage level.
There are several reasons for grounding. Some are for safety purposes, and
some are for maintaining circuit stability. The following are some
1. Power system grounding: As you can see in Figure 1, this design is to
prevent the secondary side from being damaged by the high voltage on
the primary side, as the current will be conducted to the ground through
the Grounding Wire to protect human lives.
High voltage
Low voltage
Grounding Wire
Earth Ground
Figure 1
Grounding Electrode
2. Instrument grounding: By connecting the equipment or chassis to the
ground, operators can be protected from electric shocks if there is
electricity leakage.
3. Signal grounding: A zero voltage reference or a loop-back path is
provided for all integrated signals to ensure proper functioning or
accurate measurements.
4. Shielded grounding: This is used to prevent static electricity from being
accumulated. Ground isolation or conduction can help to reduce noises
and electro-magnetic interference. Examples include shielding rooms,
cables, wirelines, guarded terminals of instruments, transformers and
Types of Instrument Grounding
(1) Figure 2 shows a commonly used instrument grounding on inputs and
AC power. In this case, the input signal ground is connected to the
power ground and when you are making a measurement, it is important
to make sure that the input signal ground is not short-circuited directly
to any point where there is a voltage difference to the earth ground.
This is very common when measuring commercially available low-cost
circuits. To reduce costs, these circuits usually do not use powerisolated transformers. Instead, the AC power is directly connected to
the circuit. As a result, a loop is formed between the circuit itself and
the earth ground, and a voltage difference occurs. If the AC power
happens to be plugged in the reverse way, or a considerable voltage
difference exists between the neutral line and the earth ground, the
combined factors could lead to very unpredictable results. Therefore,
caution must be exercised before the input is connected for
Instrument Case
and display
Figure 2
(2) To avoid the problem described above, some instruments provide
floating inputs as shown in Figure 3. Each of the inputs is floating
from the earth ground. Ideally, as long as the voltage difference
between these two inputs is within an acceptable range, the inputs can
be connected to any voltage point.
Instrument Case
and display
Figure 3
(3) Figure 4(a) and 4(b) show some common instruments for output
devices. For DC or low frequency generators, the design shown in 4(a)
is usually adopted, while for high frequency (RF) generators, the model
in 4(b) is used. Therefore, special attention is required to avoid the
problem described in item (1) when performing a high frequency
measurement. Otherwise, the voltage difference and conflict may
cause damage to the input and output of instrument circuits.
Instrument Case
Instrument Case
Figure 4
Guidelines for Instrument Grounding
While there are some guidelines for grounding, there is no hard and fast rule.
In practice, it is difficult to follow all the guidelines. Rather, it is dependent
on the environment and applications. For instance, before the measurement
is performed, evaluations should be made to decide whether the floating
method should be used. The following are some general guidelines:
(1) When dealing with different kinds of grounding such as shielded
grounding, power grounding and signal grounding, make sure that they
are guided to their own paths to avoid interaction.
(2) Keep the impedance of the ground line low and the path short.
(3) Avoid multiple ground loops, which may disturb current flows.
(4) Isolate the heavily loaded ground current loop from the small signal
Let’s take a look at the example in Figure 5. For a well-designed power
supply equipment, the voltage ripple between output A and B should be very
small. However, if for convenience sake, point C instead of point D is used
as the signal’s ground reference, a significant pulse voltage will occur and
show up on the output circuit even when the resistance between point C and
D is small. This is because the transient current in charging or discharging
the capacitors is usually very high. As a result, as soon as the power is on,
damage can be caused to the connected circuits or instruments.
Figure 5
Common Causes of Poor Grounding
Each pole in the figure represents:
L: Line, hot or active conductor
N: Neutral or identified conductor
G: Ground or earth conductor
Figure 6
(1) The AC power (such as 110V) socket does not provide the ground line
(green), as shown in Figure 6. The earth pole on the plug is usually the
longest, so that it can be connected to the ground first when the AC
power is plugged into the socket.
(2) The actual impedance to the ground is too high which does not comply
with electrical regulations (please refer to the appropriate regulations in
your country). Take the example of the third type of grounding . When
the AC voltage to the ground is above 300V, the impedance to the
ground must be less than 10Ω. If the AC voltage to the ground is under
150V, the impedance to the ground should be within 100Ω.
(3) The neutral line is mistakenly used as the ground line and these two
lines are short-circuited together on the socket. Under normal
conditions, the voltage difference between the neutral line and the
ground line on the socket must be within 1.0V, but this should not be
accomplished by short-circuiting these two lines together.
(4) Swap the hot line and the neutral line arbitrarily. Take Figure 7 as an
example. Equipment A sends out signals while equipment B receives
signals. Suppose the AC power sockets to which Equipment A and B
are connected do not provide the ground line, and the hot line and
neutral line are swapped on one of the equipment. Since equipment A
and B both have noise filters installed, a 110V AC loop is therefore
formed accidentally even when the power of A and B is not connected.
Equipment A
Figure 7
Equipment B
(1) When installing the equipment in a building, make sure to have an
electrician check on the impedance to the ground and the grounding
device to see if they comply with electrical regulations. 8AWG
wireline should be used as a minimum wire type for instrument
(2) Use the three-pole AC power socket for the instrument. Make sure the
polarity of the hot line and the neutral line is correct (see Figure 6).
The voltage difference between the neutral and the ground lines should
be less than 1V. At the socket end, the impedance between the neutral
and the ground lines should be lower than 1Ω.
(3) Find out the appropriate way to do measurements, i.e. whether the
instrument ’s input/output terminals should be grounded or be floating.
(4) Check the stability of the AC power (+5% to –10% within 120V) and
whether there are unpredictable impulses, which may cause the
measurement to fail or even damage the instrument. Generally, the
transient voltage fluctuation should not exceed ±15% within 120V and
the voltage should be restored to 120V within 0.5 second. The total
harmonic component should be less than 5%.
(5) Verify the grounding of the equipment or device under test (DUT) . If
voltage differences exist among equipment, connecting them together
may cause conflicting situations. The sudden pulses generated when
the equipment is powered on may also damage vulnerable modules. If
this happens, the links between the equipment and devices under test
should be disconnected before the AC power is turned on. Each
equipment and DUT should be reconnected only after all equipment
and devices have stabilized. In so doing, the possibilities of damage
can be minimized. However, this is not the way to eradicate the
problem completely . The best solution is to identify the root causes
and fix them.
(6) Reduce and remove unwanted static, interference and noise through
proper grounding.
Agilent Technologies Test & Measurement Service Centers have been
providing comprehensive and precise repair and calibration services to
customers for many years. Our pursuit of quality and technical innovation
enables us to offer better services to our customers. By sharing this article
with you, we hope to help you improve the accuracy of measurements and
the life span of your instruments.
Content Date: March 2002
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